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Conflict Theory and Discrimination


Conflict Theory and Discrimination


Using the Conflict Theory idea created by Karl Marx, a pattern of discrimination can be supported between law enforcement and minorities. There is evidence on both sides to correlate with a power shift between the two dynamics. That shift in power creates a bias formed by society in which prejudice and violence by both sides exists. While society, as a whole, does not condone violence, the imbalance in power on either side is met with support from internal sub-groups. The conflict lies in the degree to which each side feels the other holds power over them. From favored punishment for crimes based on race; to targeting police officers for violent acts of retaliation, the conflict that exists between law enforcement and minorities is a heated one that may not be resolved with any ease, or anytime soon.

Police profiling against gang members is not a new concept. However, in a recent study, there is claims that the gang members can be unjustly profiled against solely due to their being part of the gang without having to have had prior criminal experience. “Gang members may be vulnerable to involuntary police stops and searches because they are often involved in drug trafficking, weapons offences, and other violent crime and thus may legitimately draw the attention of police. Furthermore, in public spaces, gang members may be more conspicuous than other civilians because they often travel in groups and display gang-related symbols or paraphernalia (i.e., gang colours, tattoos, clothing, etc.)” (Hayle 2016). The idea suggests that members who have the look or take on the persona of gang members may be setting themselves up to unnecessary searches by the local law enforcement based on the probability that they “may” commit criminal acts.

On the other side of the spectrum, many people feel that law enforcement officers are being targeted for acts of violence. “Conflict theories suggest that groups lacking access to the political process, such as racial minorities, may resort to violence to achieve their goals and protest against injustice perpetuated by the state. Given their visibility, police officers may be particularly vulnerable to striking out by politically excluded groups; however, no research of which we are aware has examined how racial demographics within police departments, relative to the communities served, impacts violence against officers. Drawing on the racial threat perspective, we hypothesized that jurisdictions where the police are less representative of the community served would experience a greater number of assaults against police” (Barrick 2014). More recently than this article, there has been, as perceived by many, an all-out war on police officers. There has been an alarming increase in the number of police officer deaths, many who were shot and killed in retaliation of events that happened in other locations than where the officer was killed. Unfortunately, there have been instances where some officers abused their power and committed acts of violence against civilians and that, in turn, caused masses of people to lash out and strike back at police officers as a whole, many who were not involved in the original offence.

Additionally, there is a consensus that the judicial system plays partiality to criminals based on their race or cultural backgrounds. A report by Kevin Buckler and James Unnever implies that the level and intensity of judicial punishment for crimes varied based on the race of the criminal. “Comparative conflict theory is a theoretical statement proposed by Hagan, Shedd, and Payne (2005) to explain racial and ethnic variation in perceptions of injustice. Their theory asserted that White respondents perceive considerably less injustice than both African Americans and Hispanics (the racial-ethnic divide hypothesis) and that African Americans perceive less injustice than Hispanics (the racial gradient hypothesis). They also proposed that prior criminal justice experiences serve as a “tipping point” for Hispanics in that Hispanics with prior negative criminal justice contacts will perceive more injustice than African Americans with similar prior negative experiences” (Buckler 2008).

In conclusion, the idea of a conflict resolution between police officers and minorities will not be a resolution that will be easily settled. There has been conflict between the two for many years. The balance of power between the two can be seen by many as far too wide a spectrum, and there are far too many times when that power has been abused. Like many conflicts, the conflict between police officers and minorities is one that is hoped to be resolved one day. A hope that one day there will be no abuse of power on either side, and that violence will cease based solely on profiling one another based on skin tone or uniform.


Barrick, K., Hickman, M. J., & Strom, K. J. (2014). Representative Policing and Violence Towards the Police. Policing: A Journal Of Policy & Practice, 8(2), 193.

Buckler, K., & Unnever, J. D. (2008). Racial and ethnic perceptions of injustice: Testing the core hypotheses of comparative conflict theory. Journal Of Criminal Justice, 36270-278. doi:10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2008.04.008

Hayle, S., Wortley, S., & Tanner, J. (2016). Race, Street Life, and Policing: Implications for Racial Profiling. Canadian Journal Of Criminology & Criminal Justice, 58(3), 322-353.